Former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager said he was in “total fear” during the altercation that led to the death of an unarmed black motorist in 2015.
Slager, testifying in his own defense on Tuesday, is facing 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted in the murder of Walter Scott.
Bystander video from the incident shows Slager firing at Scott’s back eight times, hitting him five times, as Scott ran away. But on the stand, Slager said he had first tried to subdue Scott on the ground with a Taser when Scott wrestled the stun gun out of the officer’s hands.
Scott “was extending his right arm, leaning forward, and coming at me,” Slager said, his voice cracking. “I saw that Taser coming at me and I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was overpowered.”
“I was scared,” Slager, who is white, told prosecutors. “It was total fear that Mr. Scott didn’t stop.”
The case will hinge on whether the jury — which consists of 12 people, 11 of whom are white — determines Slager was in life-threatening danger when he shot Scott.
When asked by a defense attorney if he was “filled with ill will or a depraved heart” during the shooting, Slager replied, “No, I was not.”
The incident began when Slager, a North Charleston Police Department officer with five years of experience, pulled Scott over for having a broken tail light. During the stop, Scott fled his car, and Slager pursued him on foot. The chase led them to a grassy lot behind a pawn shop, where the bystander’s video begins.
In the video, Slager can be seen picking up his Taser and dropping it closer to Scott’s handcuffed body. Prosecutors have accused Slager of attempting to stage the crime scene, while Slager maintained he was following protocol by accounting for his weapons.
“A lot of this is fuzzy in my mind,” Slager said.
The case is expected to go the jury by the end of the week.